The Controllables…

nintendo controlLooks like we’re in this thing for the long haul (or at least until April 30th) so I suppose we just have to settle in and adjust to the “new normal.” I’ve heard and read that phrase many times since March 13th when President Trump issued the national emergency in light of the Coronavirus. I must say that I don’t like that phrase because there is nothing normal about the situation in our nation and in the world. I think it is an acquiescence to the fear that is in us to accept this “new” normal. What we are living in is abnormal, and I, for one, will be fighting with all that is in me to get things back to normal when we finally “flatten the curve” on this virus.

But, what do we do in the meantime? For as many times as I’ve heard or read “new normal,” I’ve also heard or read some pundit or article giving advice about living in the meantime. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered during this pandemic, it’s that everyone fancies him/herself an expert. I’ve seen or read a lot of non-medical personnel offering “expert” advice on medical issues. I’ve seen or heard a lot of non-financial folks giving financial advice. I’ve gotten a ton of emails and seen a boatload of promoted posts on social media from “life coaches” trolling for new clients offering their services in the face of the pandemic–they’re all experts, too!

Well, I figured that I’m an expert in my opinion, so that should qualify me as an expert. With that in mind, let me offer my expert opinion on how we live in the meantime. It’s really simple advice, but I’ve found it incredibly helpful to me personally. The advice is simply this–focus on the things you can control.

There are so many things that are out of our control during this time. Rather than spend time focusing on those things, why not focus on that which we can control? Just makes sense to me. It was best expressed in a meme I saw on Facebook:Important Control

I’ve decided that I’m focusing my time and effort on the important things that I can control, and as the meme points out, that’s a rather small area. So, what are those important things that I can control?

Control My Inputs

First, I can control my inputs. One thing we can’t control is the amount of time we have to spend at home. What I can control is how much time I spend in front of the television streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime. Certainly, streaming services have changed the way we watch television, but there’s no mandate that we have to sit and binge watch the entire series of Tiger King, Ozark or Narcos Mexico. After watching the entire season 2 of Narcos Mexico in the first week of the “stay-at-home” order, I discovered my mind becoming mush.

I can also control how much news I watch. Let’s not forget, folks, that CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are more opinion than news these days, and each has its own pundits who are driven more by agendas than basic facts. They’re also driven by advertising dollars, and they’ll do whatever they can to gain viewers. Fear sells, friends, and I can’t help but wonder if we’re buying too much of what they are selling, and it’s destroying us from the inside out. Rather than spending six hours watching news channels, why not watch President Trump’s press conference, your governor’s press conference and your local news, then make up your own mind about the facts?

Control My Attitude

Second, I can control my attitude. I can’t control the fact that “experts” base their models on “worst case” scenarios, and those scenarios are what get reported (see fear selling above) in the media, but I don’t have to succumb to the fear those reports often generate. I can choose to be fearful, or I can choose to be hopeful. After all, aren’t we who follow Jesus Christ, supposed to be the most hopeful of people? What does it say to a fearful world when the world see us reflecting the same fear?

I can choose anxiety, or I can choose peace. Part of my family was gathered last Sunday (we had already been around each other, so don’t judge!), and in our time together I shared a passage from John’s Gospel:

32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16: 32- 33 (NIV)

I wanted my family to know that though we may be separated for a time that we are never alone, and that should bring us peace. So, I’ll choose peace because I can control that choice.

Control My Actions

Finally, I can control my actions. I can’t control when someone treats me rudely in the grocery store for getting too close to them, but I can control how I respond when they do act rudely. Of course, it helps to remind myself that when someone lashes out because I violated the six foot rule or didn’t wear a mask, that they are reacting in fear, and that their actions are a reflection of their character, not mine. What I can control is whether I respond rudely or with an apology. I pray my character would lead me to respond with an apology, and to be more aware of others around me.

I also can’t control what someone posts on social media, but I’ve come to learn that I don’t have to respond to every idiot on social media. It breaks my heart that followers of Jesus are often so blatant in calling one another out on social media. Have a different opinion than another sister or brother in Christ? Fine. Rather than offer your alternative opinion in an often condescending way, why not simply post your own thoughts in a separate post without mentioning names? And, if the disagreement is sufficiently pronounced, why not message the person directly, or better yet, pick up the phone and call them. It is not a helpful witness to the world for them to see us fighting among ourselves.

So, I’m just going to focus on the controllables in my life. I don’t think “controllables” is a word, but it sounds good to me. I can control my inputs, my attitude and my actions. They’re all incredibly important, and can make the difference in how I endure the uncontrollable nature of the coronavirus.

Until next time, keep looking up…

This Fruit is Always in Season…

I’ve been teaching from A Firm Foundation: Hope and Vision for a New Methodist Future on Wednesday evenings. The book is a collection of essays designed to cast a compelling vision for a renewed Methodist movement, specifically in light of the current debate within the United Methodist Church.

I bring the book up only because of the chapter I read/taught last week–“When the Holy Spirit Comes with Fire.” I won’t unpack the chapter here for you, but reading the chapter and preparing to lead the Wednesday night group caused me to dig deeper on the Holy Spirit. My digging reminded me of much I had forgotten (okay, not forgotten, but taken for granted) about the work and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

My digging deeper took me specifically to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. In Galatians 5, Paul instructs the Galatians on living the Spirit-filled life (read the whole chapter here), and in that context he offers his list of he calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” You know the list, right?

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I’ll confess my own conviction as I read that list again (I’ve probably read it one thousand times before). I was convicted because there was one noticeable fruit that I can acknowledge has been absent from my life, and I believe the fact that I’ve been consumed with General Conference 2019 has put me in this place. The missing fruit, you ask? Joy!

We are, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, supposed to be joy-filled people.  One of my favorite stories about a person with a grumpy personality begins with a man going into the doctor’s office.  As he walked in, he was met by the receptionist.  He told her that he had a sore on his chin that he wanted the doctor to examine.

She said to him, “Down the hall, first door to the right, and take off your clothes.”

“But ma’am,” he said, “it’s just a sore on my chin. I don’t think all that is necessary.”

She repeated, “Down the hall, first door to the right, and take off your clothes.”

“But ma’am,” he said.

“Down the hall, first door to the right, and take off your clothes.”

So he went down the hall, took the first door to the right, walked in and saw another man already sitting there in his boxer shorts, shivering. He said to him, “Boy, that receptionist is really something, isn’t she? I just have a little sore on my chin and she told me to come down here, go through this door and take off my clothes.”

The man in the boxer shorts said, “You think that’s bad? I’m the UPS delivery man.”

There a lot of days recently that I felt like that nurse. But, joy is supposed to be one of the fruits that is always in season in the Christian.

What is this fruit of joy? The Greek word is chara, meaning “cheerfulness, calm delight.”  Unfortunately, I confuse joy with happiness. If I’m happy, then I am joy-filled, and if I’m joy-filled then I’m happy. That is incorrect. Joy is not happiness, and happiness is not joy. Actually, I can be happy and full of joy, but I can be unhappy and still be full of joy. Happiness is external. Joy, in the biblical sense, is internal. Happiness is based on chance. Joy is based on choice. Happiness is based on circumstances. Joy is based on Christ. Happiness is too often conditioned on what is “happening” to me. If people treat me well, and things are going good around me, then I am happy, but if things go wrong then my happiness is likely to be as fleeting as my circumstances.

Joy, however, goes beyond my circumstances. Joy throbs throughout Scripture as a profound, compelling quality of life that transcends the events and disasters which may dog God’s people. Joy is a divine dimension of living that is not shackled by circumstances. The Hebrew word means, “to leap or spin around with pleasure.”  Listen to the Psalmist:

16 But as for me, I will sing about your power.
    Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.
For you have been my refuge,
    a place of safety when I am in distress. Psalm 59: 16

The Apostle Paul understood this, too. He wrote to the Corinthian Christians: Our hearts ache, but we always have joy (2 Cor. 6:10). Joy should never be dependent on what is happening around us. Too often, unsatisfied expectations, unresolved conflict (like we have in the UMC right now), or unconfessed sin can serve to steal our joy from life. These are just three reasons that joy seems such an elusive fruit.

But there’s hope!  And that hope is spelled J-O-Y! I was reminded of this pattern on a church sign not far from my house. I think it’s really what solidified the message I’ve reflected on over the past couple of weeks. It is Jesus, Others, and You. Joy starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus is the source of our joy, and Jesus is the example of our joy. If we don’t know Jesus, we don’t know joy. If we know Jesus, we should know joy.

Then, others. If we’re serious about desiring to bear the fruit of joy, we must make sure we are doing OK on the horizontal dimension of life by living in biblical community with others. We will never know joy apart from others.

Finally, you. You have the challenge, and here it is: Go to church, get connected to Jesus and serve others. You’ll find joy in great abundance, and you’ll discover that the  fruit of joy is always in season.

Until next time, keep looking up…

The Lost Grace…

CHRISTIAN CONFERENCE

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, in his writings and teachings noted what he called the “means of grace.” By “means of grace,” Wesley meant those practices whereby the disciple of Jesus Christ could experience the grace of God in life-transforming ways. Wesley would say, “Do these practices on a regular basis, and watch the work of the Holy Spirit change you.” That’s the popular Lynn Malone paraphrase but you get the idea. Wesley would distinguish between what he termed the “instituted” means and the “ordinary” means by allowing that the “instituted” means were those given to the body of Christ directly by Jesus himself. Among those “instituted” means of grace were prayer, fasting, searching the Scriptures (we’d call that Bible study) and the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion), but he also lists a fifth that we’ve lost sight of in the 21st century. He called it “Christian conference.”

We hear “Christian conference,” and we think about going to a big gathering of Christians to hear preaching and teaching, worship and the like—think Promise Keeper’s or Women of Faith. Or, if we’re a good Methodist, we think about going to Annual Conference, which is the yearly gathering of Methodists from across the state where we worship and fellowship and conduct the business of the “Annual Conference,” which (for those of you not familiar with the Methodist tradition) is an institution in and of itself. None of those thoughts were on Wesley’s mind as he taught the practice of “Christian conference.” For Wesley, Christian Conference was honest, direct, piercing conversation with other Christians that was intended to help the participants grow in holiness.

GRACE LOST

Why don’t we practice this habit more often, or at all? One reason is that we desire comfort and seek to avoid conflict. Confrontation is awkward, messy, and hard, so few do it. Additionally, churches and spiritual communities are intentional about creating a sense of peace, encouragement, happiness, and joy even if it’s a façade. Identifying sin, exposing immorality, admitting the truth, uncovering corruption, and acknowledging failure contradict the image many churches are trying to portray. Following Jesus was never meant to be comfortable or easy. To live a holy life requires accountability.

In a society obsessed with self-gratification, pleasure, and comfort, churches too easily succumb to an attitude of appeasement instead of responsibility and intervention. Unchecked sin causes havoc and devastation. And while accountability can be misused, not using it at all can cause widespread harm. Accountability goes both ways and isn’t exclusively meant for pastors or those in leadership to punish those “beneath” them. Everyone is responsible. Often it’s those in leadership who need accountability the most.

Another reason we don’t develop the habit of accountability is because we live in a culture of unlimited options and choices. The next sentence is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, but it is going to hurt, so prepare yourself. Churches (and pastors) emphasize comfort because discomfort causes people to leave congregations. There, I said it! In a world inundated with options, where endless venues vie to satisfy our every need, churches are no different, and if Christians become uncomfortable, upset or discouraged, they can simply pack up and go someplace else, and many of them do. It’s easier for a church to make everyone feel good, but it often comes at the cost of spiritual maturity.

Jesus faced the same problem, too. John’s Gospel records an incident in chapter six. Jesus had fed five thousand and walked on water. The next day, the crowds clamored to be around him. Jesus figured it was time for a little accountability, so he told them, “You just wanted me for what I could do for you. Don’t worry so much about what I can provide for you, but focus on the eternal matters of life” (John 6: 26 – 27). It turned out to be one of the most difficult conversations Jesus had with those who followed him as he tried to explain that He was the bread of life. The people began arguing among themselves, and when all was said and done, we find a revealing little passage in John 6:66—“At this point, many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.” Difficult conversations cause discomfort, and with so many options, we choose not to be uncomfortable.

There is a danger in developing the habit of accountability, though, and that danger is another reason we don’t practice it much anymore. The danger is legalism. Sadly, many churches, both past and present, have wrongly implemented “accountability” to serve their own agendas. There are numerous accounts of using guilt, shame, fear, embarrassment, and terror to manipulate, abuse, control, hurt, and destroy the lives of countless victims. Church history has been stained by varying degrees of legalism, and today’s churches will do anything to avoid such labels, even if it means abandoning the practice of accountability altogether. It is sad that we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

REDISCOVERING GRACE

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Galatian church to hold each other accountable, and reminded them of how to do it. Paul said that we should “gently” help a fellow traveler back on the path so that we don’t fall into the same ditch. The loss of accountability can lead to believers who are susceptible to self-righteousness and spiritual immaturity. Ironically, it can also result in Christians who are more judgmental towards those outside the faith. Instead of holding ourselves accountable, it’s much easier to point the finger at the rest of society, and to be the accuser instead of the accused. To avoid our own sins, we often distract ourselves by focusing on the sins of others.

Our challenge is to responsibly develop the habit of accountability without abusing it, to gracefully and lovingly help people grow in their faith without being legalistic or abusive or accusatory, to challenge and inspire people through relational support and encouragement instead of abandoning and isolating them. The grace of accountability is about building up, not tearing down. The grace in accountability is about encouragement, not discouragement. The grace in accountability is for prayer together and prayer for one another—it is, as Paul reminds the Galatians, about bearing one another’s burdens.

John Wesley would agree. In what are called Wesley’s “Large Minutes,” he writes in reference to Christian Conference: “Are we convinced how important and how difficult it is to order our conversation right? It is always in grace? Seasoned with salt? Meet to minister grace to the hearers?” For Wesley, it was always about building up the body—to help each other live holy lives.

Living holy lives is the end game. It’s not about church growth, it’s about spiritual growth. The church is the place we learn to practice the habits that promote spiritual growth that we can then take back to work, to school, home and to our communities so that God’s transformation takes place, not only in us, but in the world around us.

How do I begin to develop this habit, and discover its grace? It’s all about relationship! Transformation takes place in relationship—a relationship with Jesus Christ and a relationship with others who walk the journey. The imagery Paul uses in Galatians 6 of another believer being “overcome” by some sin, the language literally is of one who has slipped—like on an icy sidewalk, or on an uneven path. No one plans to slip on an icy sidewalk. No one plans a misstep on that path, but it happens, even when we’re being careful. Yes, we can many times pick ourselves up, but when someone else is there to help us, it makes it easier. Yes, it’s embarrassing to slip on that icy patch. We look around to see if anyone saw us, and we even try to resist the efforts of others who come along to help us. Paul’s point is we need someone to help us when we stumble over sin in our lives.

Wesley’s genius was his organization of converts into societies, classes and bands. Think congregation, small group, smaller group here. For early Methodists, these accountable relationships happened in the class meetings. Classes were groups of 10-12 persons who met weekly and focused on the details of individual’s lives, where they were experiencing God and growing in faith and holiness, and where they were not experiencing God or failing to grow in faith and holiness. They asked one simple question: “How is your life in God?” It was, in all its facets, a means of developing the habit of accountability, and for Wesley, it was grace.

Accountability can be grace to us, too, when we find a group, or even a person where we can ask and be asked the question, “How is your life in God?”

Don’t have a group? Ask your pastor. Or, ask me. I’ll be glad to help.

Until next time, keep looking up…

 

Keep it Simple…(Stupid?)

The Malones are HGTV junkies. From Island Life to Fixer Upper, from Property Brothers to House Hunters, you can find us many nights as the evening winds down sitting in front of the television decompressing in front of one of HGTV’s offerings. One of the lessons we’ve learned from HGTV is that when you’re trying to sell your home you have to de-clutter. De-cluttering is getting all the non-essential stuff out of the house so it presents better to potential buyers.

Developing the habit of simplicity is about de-cluttering. It is about practicing the art of letting go of the “things” that too possess us rather than us possessing them. When I say “things,” I’m not only talking about material possessions. I’m also talking about some spiritual issues that impact our lives in negative ways. We live cluttered lives not only materially, but emotionally and spiritually. Our homes are cluttered, our calendars are cluttered and our hearts are cluttered. We live in a cluttered age, and simplicity is a means of grace God gives us to free ourselves of all that hinders us from the holy lives He calls us to.

SIMPLY NOT!

I want us to understand, first, what simplicity is not. Simplicity is not getting rid of all our stuff, quitting everything we’re involved in and living the ascetic’s life. Ascetics are those who have renounced material possessions as evil. That’s not simplicity, at all! God desires that all His children should have adequate provision. A simple lack of provision in many places in this world creates great misery, and forced poverty (where it exists) should be denounced as evil. The bible is consistent that creation is good, and that we are to enjoy it. Developing the habit of simplicity does not denounce possessions. It sets them in proper perspective.

Richard Foster, to whom I’m greatly indebted for the foundation of this blog, says that simplicity is the only thing that reorients our lives so that we can graciously enjoy possessions so they don’t destroy us. It is the habit of simplicity that keeps us from “buying into” the culture’s values of owning, but it also keeps us from a form of legalism that says you shouldn’t buy “that” car, or own “that” house.

A “RICH FOOL”

Jesus addressed some of the underlying issues that keep us from living in simplicity. One of those occasions was an encounter in Luke 12. A man comes to Jesus with a request: “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide my father’s estate with me.” Seems like a fair request to us. We know how family squabbles can be after the death of a parent, don’t we? Jesus, as he often does, doesn’t answer the question directly. Rather he tells a story about a rich fool. “Rich fool” sounds like an oxymoron to us, sort of like “jumbo shrimp,” or “clearly confused.” Those words just don’t work together, but the story indicates that Jesus is saying the rich man was a fool for focusing his life on the wrong things. The point, too, would have been clear to the man who made the request.

Jesus was not addressing the issue of wealth with this story. Wealth is amoral. The person possessing the wealth defines its morality. The Bible is full of godly people who possessed wealth—Abraham, David, Job, et.al. Jesus was addressing the condition of the man’s heart. Simplicity is first and foremost a matter of the heart, and simplicity starts in a right relationship with God.

The spiritual discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style. The inward reality will always impact how we live. Sure, we can go sell all our stuff, pare down to the bare essentials, but unless the reason to do it comes from the heart, it will simply lead to legalism, and rather than becoming holy, we’ll become “holier-than-thou.” We first have to de-clutter our hearts. There are two places we need to start. There are probably more, but I note only two.

DE-CLUTTERING OUR HEARTS

First, we need de-clutter greed. That was the real issue behind the man’s initial request. The ancient law said the eldest son received 2/3 of a father’s estate, and 1/3 was divided among the rest. We don’t know how many siblings were involved in this estate. It doesn’t matter. The man making the request felt that whatever amount, it was unfair. He wanted more, even if the more was his just due.

Second, we need to de-clutter fear. Perhaps we should see that fear is what leads to covetousness. The rich fool in Jesus’ story was afraid…afraid he’d lose his abundance. He was afraid his barns weren’t big enough. His affluence made him anxious. Tell me something: What’s the difference in worrying about our possessions if we have an abundance and worrying because we don’t? Fear is fear, regardless.

Contemporary culture would leave us trapped in a maze of competing attachments. We fill our homes with “stuff” because we have the resources to do so. Advertisers tell us we need the latest, the best, the brightest, the newest. Culture tells us we need the latest fashions. Last year’s fashions simply won’t do. Oh, I’ve got 50,000 miles on my car. I need a new one.

We fill our calendars with activities, too. We run from event to event, afraid we might miss being seen in the right circles, with the right people. We’re afraid we might miss the one life-changing experience that’s waiting in the next conference, or the next job, or the next relationship. Or, we crowd our children’s schedules with activities because we’re afraid they won’t have every experience necessary to help them succeed in such a competitive world. Richard Foster says, “It’s time to awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.”

ONE LOVE

How do we break the cycle? How do we begin to live into this inward grace of simplicity? Jesus gives us the clue. Immediately after he told the story of the rich fool, he turns to his disciples and unpacks the dangers of fear and worry. He talks about ravens and flowers and God’s care for them. He talks about worry and its effect on life, and then he gives a summary statement in 12: 31—Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

Simplicity starts when the heart focuses on one thing alone—the Kingdom of God. everything hinges on maintaining the first priority of life. Nothing can come before the Kingdom of God. Not spouse, not children, not job, not recreation…not even the desire to live a simple life. Even that can become an idol. We’ve got to be like Cane’s Chicken—we must have “one love,” and that one love is God and God’s Kingdom. The rich fool never once mentioned God. Ten times he made a personal reference to himself, but never once thought of God.

THE RIGHT ATTITUDE

The inward reality of simplicity is reflected in three inner attitudes. First, to see everything we possess as a gift from God. Yes, we work, but God provides. We live by grace when it comes to air, water and sun. When we are tempted to think that what we own is the result of our personal efforts, the first drought or little accident shows us how utterly dependent we are for everything.

The second attitude that reflects inward simplicity is to know that it is God’s business to care for what He’s entrusted to us. God is able to protect what we possess. Yes, we put locks on the doors, but even then we are able to acknowledge that locks are for honest people. Precautions are necessary, but if we believe the precaution itself will protect us or our belongings, we will live in fear.

The third attitude that reflects inward simplicity is to have our possessions available to others. This is generosity. If we’re unwilling to make our resources available to the community when it is right and good, then Foster says we’re dealing in stolen goods. The rich fool was worried about tomorrow, so he thought he could build bigger barns. He never, ever considered giving the excess away.

Jesus lived and told this story in a fairly simple agrarian culture. If Jesus warned of the duplicity of the heart in such a simple time, how much more do we need to hear and heed his message in our complex culture?

MAKE IT REAL

I want to offer some practical ways we can begin to practice outwardly what God is doing inwardly. Remember, though, every attempt to give specific application to simplicity runs the risk of taking us from holy to “holier-than-thou.” It is a risk we must take, otherwise it all stays theoretical, and theory is great, but we need practical. Let me offer us five ways.

First, buy things for the usefulness, not their status. The question to ask is not, “Why am I buying a new car?” The question should be “Why am I buying THAT new car? Friends, we don’t need more clothes. Never buy new clothes without first getting rid of some older ones, or consider that last year’s styles are okay. John Wesley wrote, “As for apparel, I buy the most lasting and , in general, the plainest I can. I buy no furniture but what is necessary and cheap.” Buy for usefulness, not status.

Second, develop a habit of giving things away. Hey, if there’s something we’ve become desperately attached to, we need to seriously consider giving it away to someone who needs it. Have a yard sale, but not to take the proceeds and go buy more stuff. Take the proceeds and send them to a missionary, or give them to a project at the church. Generosity is at the heart of simplicity.

Third, resist the latest and greatest gadgets. Do we really need to run out and buy the iPhone 8 when our iPhone 7 still functions adequately?

Fourth, avoid as much credit as possible. Credit deepens our bondage. We know most people can’t save enough to buy a house, but we can save enough for a good down payment. Follow the Dave Ramsey philosophy of paying off debt as quickly as possible, and then building wealth so you can live generously. In the Dave Ramsey world, the paid-off home mortgage is the status symbol of choice.

Finally, shun anything that distracts us from the seeking first the Kingdom of God. The pursuit of good things can distract us from pursuit of great things, and pursuit of better things can distract us from the pursuit of the best thing. Jobs, position, status, family, security—these things, while all good, can too quickly become the center of our attention.

May God give us the courage, wisdom and strength to seek first His Kingdom—to keep the main thing the main thing. That is the essence of the habit of simplicity, and it is grace. By developing this habit of grace, may we grow in the likeness of Jesus Christ, and in so doing, become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Amen!

Until next time, keep looking up…

Just Answer the Phone…

Perhaps you’ve heard of the book Diffusion of Innovations that describes how new ideas and technologies spread in different cultures. The model describes the adoption or acceptance of a new product or innovation by grouping how different people come to accept the innovation or technology. The first persons to use a new product or technology are called “innovators,” followed by those who are referred to as “early adopters.” Next come the early and late majority, and the last group to eventually adopt a product are called “laggards.” I must admit, when text messaging first came onto the scene, I was a laggard. When it comes to technology, I generally considered myself an early adopter or at least an early majority kind of person, but texting was different. Seriously! Just pick up the phone and call me.

txtSomething changed my mind, though. Want to know what it was? It was my desire to communicate with my daughters. My daughter’s preferred method of communication…their preferred method of staying connected is via text messaging. I would call them and they wouldn’t answer their phones. That was quite irritating, especially when I was paying the bill. Yet, they were constantly on their phones. I soon learned that if I texted them, they’d respond almost immediately. I could call…no answer. Text…boom! Answer right away. It’s how they communicated. Really, though…you’ve got the phone in your hand. Why can’t you just answer the silly thing? That was my reasoning. The only problem is my reasoning didn’t work with them. If I wanted to communicate with my daughters, I was going to have to communicate by their chosen means. I had to become part of the majority, even though I wanted desperately to be a laggard.

Sometimes the church can be a laggard when it comes to the diffusion of innovations. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be an innovation. It may have nothing to do with technology. It may simply be the method in which we communicate the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Jesus gave the church a fairly specific command to connect with people. He called us to connect with people so that they would become his disciples. It’s called the Great Commission, and we find it in Matthew 28: 18 – 20:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

You’re aware of the seismic shifts that are occurring in culture. Certainly with technology and our attempts at staying connected. The entire Christian faith is about being connected. To be disciples of Jesus Christ we must be connected—first, to Jesus Christ, but then, to his body, the church. We need the fellowship of believers, yet in this culture where connection seems to be so easy, the church lags behind in making disciples.

It might first be helpful to understand discipleship a little better. The word Jesus uses in issuing the Great Commission means “a follower.” It doesn’t simply mean being a student. Someone said a student learns what the teacher knows, but a disciple (a follower) becomes what the teacher is. I wonder (and it’s only wondering) if we’re having such a hard time making disciples because we haven’t become disciples ourselves? We’ve spent a lot of time learning what the Bible has to say, but how much time do we actually spend becoming what Jesus is? I’m preaching to myself, people. Jesus give us a directive to follow. It’s what he did while he was here. It’s pretty simple: go, baptize, teach. There’s an appropriate order, too. It begins with going.

I believe going is the most significant part of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples…” “Going” to tell others the Good News is not simply shouting “turn or burn” to one outside a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is living life in such a way that others see something different in us. It is to live a life of grace…a life of compassion…a life of hope…a life of forgiveness…a life of reconciliation.

The old cliché is never truer than in matters of faith: People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. When we show concern and compassion for others it opens the door for a relationship. Relationship is where transformation takes place. We can never underestimate the power of relationship in the making of disciples. The relationships begin “out there” in the world…in the work place…in the marketplace…on the golf course…in the places where we encounter the people we know.

Each of us has a story to share of what God has done, and is doing in our lives. We must be ready to tell our story…even when we feel our story is insignificant. There is no insignificant story in the Kingdom of God. Not one.

I think I’ve shared with you before why I call Starbucks my satellite office. It’s because I can encounter more unchurched people in an hour at Starbucks than I can by spending forty hours a week in the office. I don’t have many unchurched people stopping by the office to chit-chat. We must go where the people are, and believe you me, there are people at Starbucks. I can’t believe so many people pay so much for coffee! I have my own Starbucks Gold Card, by the way!

If we would connect with people, we must connect with them where they are. We’ve spent far too long expecting people to come to church. Come check us out. Come see what we have going on. Come to worship. The first part of the Great Commission was “go.” Go where they are! This is one place the church plays the part of the laggard. We still want people to come, when all the Lord ever asked us to do was go. I might add that in the future there will be more church happening “out there” where people are than “in here” where we gather each week.

One other place the church plays the laggard, if I may? We lag behind the world in the way we communicate the message. Hear me clearly: the message never changes. The method in which the message is delivered is constantly changing, and unless we change our delivery method, we’ll fail to be effective and fruitful in connecting to others.

Remember, the message I wanted to communicate with my daughters didn’t change. I still told them the same things I was always telling them. I simply had to adopt the method of communication to which they became accustomed. Message the same. Method different.

One of the ways I’ve had to adapt in the church? Shorter sermons. I know! There are some Sundays it doesn’t feel that way, but truly, attention spans have decreased with the innovation of technology. People need a shorter sermon. That means for me to be effective, I have to preach shorter messages.

The message Christ has entrusted to us is a message of forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a message of hope and life. It is a message of repentance and reconciliation. It is a message of encouragement and grace. That hasn’t changed in over 2,000 years. With technology rising, and church attendance sagging, the method of communicating that message must change, too.

Let us commit to connect with God, with each other, and with others who are searching for meaning and purpose. Let us commit to be open to connecting with them whenever and wherever they are. Let us commit to connect with them in whatever means is necessary, even if it means sending them a text.

Until next time, keep looking up…

I’m No Saint!…

new-orleans-saints-wallpapersSometimes, a guy just has to vent. That’s all I’m doing, and it’s proof positive that I’m not the perfect pastor.

I love football, and I love the New Orleans Saints, but today was as embarrassed as I’ve ever been as a Saints fan (and I was a Saints fan in 1980). The Saints just stunk up the place…and, that’s all I have to say about that!

Well, not really. I’ll say more because I’m not done venting. So, here’s what I saw today:

  • Drew Bress, though he’s a tick behind his MVP performances of the past, still has some game left in him (even when he’s hurt). Brees hurt is still better than three-fourths of the quarterbacks in the league.
  • Brees can’t win games alone…even when he’s healthy.
  • This is perhaps the worst offensive line the Saints have had in the Sean Payton era. And, they traded Jimmy Graham to bolster this offensive line.
  • Without an offensive line, there will be no running game. Though Mark Ingram has shown flashes of brilliance, he still has not made a statement to indicate he is a premier runner. Khiry Robinson is a great second back, which makes me wonder why he’s not the first back, but…
  • C. J. Spiller is perhaps the best non-stater in the NFL. I can’t figure out why his name is not called more often.
  • Marques Colston is in the winter of his career. He’s dropping too many passes to be the number one receiver. He’s been great, but in the NFL it’s not “What have you done for me in the past?” It’s “What are you doing for me today?” Brandin Cooks may one day step up to take Colston’s place, but it’s hard for a 5’10” guy to take the place of a 6’4″ guy.
  • This is the worst defensive line the Saints have had in the Sean Payton era. They pressured Sam Bradford so little in the game against the Eagles that Bradford looked like a premier quarterback. He’s not. He’s better than me, but that ain’t saying much!
  • Two bright spots for the defense: Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha. They’ll be strong defensive contributors as they gain experience. The problem will be keeping them long term. Drew’s salary is going to bite the Saints in the butt at some point, and some of that young talent will have to be sacrificed for the salary cap.
  • The defensive secondary is somewhat improved. Delvin Breaux, once he gets the CFL out of his system, will be a solid addition. Getting Jairus Byrd back should be helpful, as well, but when the secondary is making as many tackles as the Saints secondary, it points back to the defensive line.
  • Rob Ryan is still on the coaching staff. Enough said.
  • I’m wondering how much Roger Goddell paid the officiating crew to call all those ticky-tacky penalties on the Saints? That was an incredible display of terrible officiating, and if there was ever a season the Saints didn’t need that help, well, this is the one.

There’s probably more I could say, but I think I’ve vented enough now. The fact that I could provide such a litany of problems points to a larger problem. The buck will eventually stop on Sean Payton’s desk. I understand the Miami Dolphins are inquiring about talking to Payton to fill their empty head coaching job. Maybe it’s time for the Saints to allow Payton to talk to them. The Saints have not been the same team since “BountyGate,” and yes, the NFL owes Sean Payton and the Saints a major apology after “Deflategate,” but still, it might be time for a change for the Saints and for Payton.

Oh, sorry, I started venting again. Anyway…

In the grand scheme of life, no one will care who won this football game, and no one will really care how good or bad the Saints were in the 2015 season. There’s nothing life changing about it, period. But, it matters to me TODAY, and you’re getting my love and my frustration all in one fell swoop. That’s just the way it is, and that’s why I’m really not the perfect pastor, nor am I the perfect person. Heck, I’m not even the perfect Saints fan.

I’m done now…

Until next time, keep looking up…

Not Enough Hours in the Day (And Other Rambling Thoughts)…

clergy burnoutI belong to a private Facebook group for clergy, and one of my colleagues posted a question about work hours to the group. The person pastors a growing church and was concerned about the number of hours worked in a typical week. The person was asking the members of the group to respond with their own typical hours. It made for some interesting responses, and prompted me to consider (or reconsider) “work” hours for myself and others.

First, a disclaimer: I write as one who went through a period of clergy burnout, so my responses may be colored by that fact. Don’t hold it against me, please. Here’s a helpful list of resources dealing with clergy burnout.

The person made the statement that he/she was working 48 – 60 hours per week, and wanted to know from others in the group is this was normal. My response? Uh…YEAH! Especially if the church you pastor is experiencing any growth. Of course, this raises the question of overwork for pastors (keep the lazy preacher jokes to yourself–and also the jokes about only working one day per week).

Here are my thoughts on pastoral work hours, and only a little rationale underlying why I think what I think. Please be gracious with any responses. Pastors have feelings, too!

I begin each week with the expectation that I’m going to “work” 50 hours per week. I also begin each week knowing the week is unpredictable, and there is no legitimate way to know how many hours I may work. I do anticipate that 50 will be the minimum. If there is a funeral or a wedding (or two, or three funerals…), then that number will stretch to nearer 60. This is my own expectation, not one anyone has placed upon me. Actually, if you look in the United Methodist Book of Discipline at the “job description” of a clergy, it would take closer to 90 hours a week, but that’s another discussion. Dr. Thom Rainer found that if you add up all the hours  for the congregational expectations for the various tasks clergy perform in a week, it would total 110 hours per week.

Here’s my rationale for my 50-hour work week. My average congregational member will work a 40-hour week. Then, I (as a pastor) expect the most committed member to offer ministry and participation to the local congregation, and if that most committed member offers 8 hours per week (including worship attendance, Sunday school, bible study, servant leadership, etc.), then that person has “worked” 48 hours per week. Why in the world would I ask any member to do more than I am willing to do myself? Aren’t we to lead by example? A subsequent question I ask is: Where does my “vocation” as a pastor end, and my calling as a “disciple” begin? There is a fine (very fine), gray line between the two.

Here’s a typical week for me:

  • Office hours 20 hours/week
  • Sermon preparation 12 – 20 hours/week (depending upon whether I’ve preached a particular passage before)
  • Hospital visitation 2 hours/week
  • Committee and Administrative meetings 4 hours/week
  • Denominational meetings and expectations 2 hours/week
  • Worship 4 hours/week (yes, leading worship is work! Try it sometime and see!)
  • Bible Study preparation (seasonal) 4 – 12 hours/week (depending on the resources utilized in prepartion)

Yes, I know the list totals more than 50 hours, but not every week includes everything on the list. There are some weeks when there are no denominational meetings or expectations, but then there are weeks when those expectations demand far more than two hours per week. The same with administrative meetings at the church, and also with hospital visitations. Throw in a single funeral, and we can add 6 – 8 hours of additional preparation time.

Please don’t misunderstand me. None of this is complaining! In one regard, I’m trying to figure out how my colleagues in ministry can possibly work less than 40 hours a week, or even limit ministry to 40 hours a week. They must be better at time management than I am! Of course, I’m the first to admit that I’m no good at time management.clergy chill

The real question for me (and this is a matter of boundaries, I suppose) is this: How much of what I do, do I do because I’m a pastor, and how much do I do because I’m a disciple? Therein lies the struggle for me. How much of what I do as a pastor would I do because I’m a disciple first? Yes, I know. There would be no sermon prep nor office hours, but I would be doing office hours somewhere, and I would be putting together projects or making sales calls, or doing whatever my chosen profession expected of me to be successful, so it would all balance out. I just figure if I haven’t invested 50 hours a week I probably haven’t done as much as my most committed member. I should do as much as my most committed member.

One of the great benefits of being a pastor is flexibility in scheduling work. With the exception of Sunday morning and Wednesday evening, we can flex our schedules relatively easily. That is definitely a benefit. This week might demand 60 hours, but next week might demand only 45, and I can greatly influence how I order those 45. There may even be the odd week that offers me the freedom to work less than 40 (those are rare, but they do happen) hours. God usually sends those at just the right time.

None of this is to say that overwork can’t be a problem. We should always observe a Sabbath. Sabbath rest is a biblical principle, and as congregational leaders (and disciples) we should lead by example. Since my burnout in 2008 I have pretty much honored my Sabbath. Yes, sometimes, funerals, special events, and unforeseen circumstances prevent it, but that’s where flexibility of scheduling becomes the benefit. We must take our Sabbath rest…must! The greatest problem many of us clergy have is getting past our own need to be needed. Take the Sabbath rest. The work will still be there when we get back. Perhaps we need the Sabbath rest to wrestle with the question, “Why do I need to be needed?” The greatest lesson I’ve learned as a pastor (a little hyperbole, folks) is that if something happens to me, there’ll be another pastor right behind me to take my place (especially in our United Methodist system of appointment). That’s also a humbling lesson. I’m not indispensable.

There’s much more I could write on this subject, but the simple fact is that I’ve already invested too much time this morning writing this blog, and I didn’t include writing this blog in figuring my hourly work load, so I’ve totally messed up my week. But, is this blog work, or is it discipleship, or is it for fun? I wonder? See how gray the line gets?

Until next time, keep looking up…

The Value in Growing Smaller…

A phrase kept going through my mind: Reduction is a strategic endeavor. Like a song gets stuck in your head, I simply could not put those words out of my mind. I finally got up at 3:30 a.m., and wrote them down.

tape measureAt first, the phrase didn’t make sense to me, especially in light of the fact that I’m supposed to be “growing” a church. That was my first connection to the phrase, but for some reason, that left too much undefined. So, what did I do? I went to Facebook (isn’t that what we always do these days?). I posted the phrase with two companion sentences: Reduction is a strategic endeavor. Some things must grow smaller before growing larger. Some things get better by being smaller. I asked for comments. Yes, I got quite a few (and no, there were no snide comments about reducing my waistline), but they all helped bring some clarity to the idea that “reduction is a strategic endeavor.”

Here’s what I’m thinking:

It’s a personal statement about de-cluttering one’s life. We must be strategic in eliminating the right things from our life to make margin for those endeavors that are fruitful and beneficial to helping us live healthy lives. There are a lot of things with which we can occupy our time. Most of them are good things, but not all of them are the best ways for us to grow as healthy persons and disciples. We must be strategic in eliminating the distractions, and focus on the things that matter most.

Okay, so it’s also personal, and can refer to my waistline. If we want to lose weight (and I can’t think of many people who don’t want to lose weight), we must develop a healthy strategy of exercise and diet. Without a strategy (and subsequent implementation) we’ll never take the first step in doing the necessary things to accomplish the goal. I might add, this is purely self-referential. I’m not casting a dispersion on anyone else and their waistline. Developing a strategy for healthy weight loss allows us to plan our work and then work our plan.

As I reflect, I understand that “reduction is a strategic endeavor” is also an intensely spiritual statement. I am reminded of John the Baptist’s words in John 3:30, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” It is a statement about humility. We must be strategic in living lives of humility so that our mind becomes the mind of Christ. What are those things that keep me from humbling myself before Him? Is it my pride? How do I deal with that issue? Is it my arrogance? How do I deal with that? Is it my self-centeredness? How must I deal this that? Is it my laziness? Is it the fact that I rather enjoy having my own way? There are so many questions I ask myself that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what it means to become less and less that He might become greater and greater. More than identifying them, how do I develop a strategy for dealing with them. Come Holy Spirit!

I discover the statement is also a professional statement. As I ponder this aspect of “reduction is a strategic endeavor,” I consider the “busy-ness” of many churches. We are busy with activity, but is the activity fruitful. Activities become the “end” for many churches rather than the “means.” We end up doing activity for activities sake, and that only serves to make the church more insular and stifles involvement in the community (where the people who need Jesus hang out). Thom Rainer did a great podcast on the subject recently, and made some very salient points:

  1. Activity is not biblical purpose.
  2. Busyness can take us away from connecting with other believers and non-believers.
  3. An activity-driven church often is not strategic in its ministries.
  4. A congregation that is too busy can hurt families.
  5. An activity-driven church often has no presence in the community.
  6. Activity-driven churches tend to have “siloed” ministries.
  7. Churches that focus on activities tend to practice poor stewardship.

As the body of Christ, we must be strategic in eliminating every activity that does not specifically address the mission of reaching others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will probably get into some touchy areas, but without a strategy, we will continue to be busy, but not rather effective. What a shame!

I also reflected on “reduction is a strategic endeavor” for the church as a whole. It sounds counter-intuitive to us as we see “mega-churches” (and now, “giga-churches”) growing by leaps and bounds, and we know that growth is good, especially when others accept Christ as Lord and Savior. But, I was given pause as I considered the words of John 6:66, “At this point, many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.” Sometimes, discipleship is simply too hard. It’s easier to turn away from the challenges of being a disciple, and one reason the western church may be (and I’m only speculating here) in the state of decline is because we’ve had a lot of “cultural Christians”–those who were part of the body of Christ for the benefits that came from a religious affiliation. Perhaps (and again, I’m speculating) persecution is the Lord’s strategy for winnowing out His church.

Finally, there is another consideration on the phrase “reduction is a strategic endeavor” that I’ve pondered. It stems from my time as a District Superintendent in the United Methodist Church. It’s painful, but it’s true, and I hesitate to even mention it here, but I feel compelled. There are many congregations in the UM Church that lack effectiveness (for a number of reasons). Those small congregations draw resources, energy and attention away from the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Is it a matter of stewardship to develop a strategy for dealing with those congregations, for developing a strategy for reducing the number of congregations that are not achieving the mission? That’s a challenging thought, and one for which I will receive much push back, but shouldn’t someone be asking the question?

There are probably many other considerations I should make, but that’s about where I am this morning. And, now, you know what I’m thinking (as though you even cared!).

Until next time, keep looking up…

Unpacking Crazy Faith…

What is “crazy faith”? For me, it means many things. One, it means trusting God in the midst of the craziness that can sometimes be my life. For another, it means believing the crazy idea that God would be born in human flesh,  be born as a baby, grow up as a man, be crucified for the sins of the world, and three days later rise up from the grave. For yet another, it means believing that Jesus would forgive me, and offer me the opportunity to be reconciled to my heavenly Father. And, for yet another, it means believing that God could, would and desires to use me in the building of His Kingdom. Now, that’s crazy, I tell you. Pure crazy!crazy faith

I hope I have a crazy faith. I want desperately to believe that He can use me, that He does use me, even when I can’t (or don’t) see it. In my last blog, I listed five characteristics of “crazy faith.” There is nothing scientific about the characteristics. They’re just things I’ve discovered in my own life as I’ve attempted to live the life of faith.

1. Crazy faith doesn’t have God in a box.

If I’ve learned nothing else in my life, I’ve learned that just about the time I have God figured out, I don’t. Think back to the Garden of Eden. The first temptation the serpent offered to Adam and Eve was the temptation to “be like God, knowing everything.” Guess what? That temptation is still with us today. We like to nail everything down, put everything into neat little boxes. That way we can control every situation. The quest for knowledge is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. After all, it was God who gave humanity the directive to till the soil, and to name the animals. God was laying the foundation for the scientific enterprise, and the exploration of His creation helps us to fulfill the task appointed to us by God Himself.

But the great mistake we make is to make God a part of His creation. God is not a part of the creation. God is wholly other, and therefore, God can never be the subject of scientific investigation. God is not some riddle or mind puzzle that can be solved with enough thought and reflection. God is a mystery, and mystery that is solved ceases to be a mystery. God is a mystery to be adored rather than a riddle to be explained. All we can ever know about God is what God chooses to reveal to us. Beyond that, God will always remain a mystery. As long as God is in our box, we’ll not see the miracles He does on a daily basis. We’ll also not see His power revealed in our lives. With God in a box, we’ll never have “crazy faith.”

2. Crazy faith doesn’t always follow the rules.

If you’re like me, you grew up thinking following Christ was about keeping rules. Don’t do this…do that! You know, like go to church every Sunday, read my Bible every day, pray, don’t work on Sunday (or in those days, play ball on Sunday, or go fishing on Sunday, or…). I knew others who thought being a disciple meant wearing your hair a certain way, or not wearing a certain type of clothing. For still others, it meant no smoking, no drinking, or no (well, you fill in the blank). And, no, I’m not advocating for drinking or smoking. I’m just saying I came to see discipleship as a list of rules to keep, as though I could check them off my list (both do’s and don’ts) and everything would be okay.

I’ve discovered that Jesus came to change the rules. As a matter of fact, he spent three years in ministry to do just that. We know Jesus healed on the Sabbath (see Mark 3:1-6), and we know it was Jesus who criticized the scribes and Pharisees for their being so rule-bound they were actually keeping people from discovering the Kingdom (see Luke 11:37-54). I also remember Jesus telling a bunch of Pharisees that it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth (i.e., blessings and cursings–see Matthew 15:1-20).

Okay, so I don’t know so much that Jesus changed the rules, but he sure offered some clarity in interpreting them. The greatest rule…the most important rule…is the rule of love. Love God and love others. Oh, and another thing I’ve discovered: Love doesn’t always look like or act like I think it should. All I have to do is look at the cross to prove that point. Any questions? Refer back to characteristic number one!

3. Crazy faith isn’t shackled by the fear of failure.

The greatest failure in life is the failure to try. I’ve told my congregations many times that I’m not afraid the fail, I’m afraid not to try. We hosted the Global Leadership Summit from Willow Creek Community Church, and the most compelling thing I heard was from Craig Groeschel, who said, “If we want to reach people no one else is reaching, we have to do things no one else is doing.” We have to risk failure to see God do miracles in our midst. We have to risk getting out of our comfort zone to reach others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must risk rejection. We must risk resources. We must risk failure. If we’re unwilling to risk it all, we really don’t have “crazy faith.”

4. Crazy faith believes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission.

See #3 above.

5. Crazy faith is driven by passion, not success.

Crazy faith is passionate about following Jesus. Crazy faith is also about wanting to see others come to experience the depth of love and abundant grace that only comes in a relationship with Jesus Christ. What is passion? Someone once said that passionate is just one step short of crazy. I say, maybe it’s all the way! Passion is what drives us. Passion means we do what we do because we love doing it, not because there’s a monetary reward waiting at the other end. I’m passionate about preaching. I love to preach. It’s why I get out of bed every morning. It’s why I do what I do. It’s why I endure the challenges of vocational ministry. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t preach. I’m crazy about preaching. I’ve always believed there are two types of preachers in the world: Those who can’t do ANYTHING else, and those who CAN’T do anything else. I hope I’m in the second category (think about it a minute–you’ll get it!).

In the same way, to have crazy faith means we have to be passionate about being Christ-like. We simply CAN’T do anything else–we can’t find meaning, we can’t find purpose, we can’t find rest–but pursue Him in ways that transform us, and ultimately transform the world. Yes, it makes us a bit crazy!

So, there you have my understanding of what it means to possess a “crazy faith.” They may not mean much to you, and if so, you can simply call me crazy. It’s a label I’ll gladly wear.

Until next time, keep looking up…

 

This “Crazy” Life (Or, 5 Characteristics of Crazy Faith)…

What do you do when life gets crazy? When you are worn out, tired, discouraged, when things have not gone well, when you are, if not at the end of your rope, pretty close to the end – what do you do? What do I do? I eat! I am a stress eater. Sometimes it is somethings sweet. Other times it is a salty, full of comforting carbs snack – but when I’m at the edge or walking into the house at the end of long day I want food – whether I am hungry or not. I just want to eat, to fill myself up with something that will keep me from having to deal with the emptiness stress often causes. Yes, I walk into the house and say to Vanessa, “Let’s go get something to eat!”crazy faith

I confess to you my way of dealing with stress, not so you will tell me, “You don’t have to worry about your weight, Pastor,” but so you will think about what you do. Some people smoke, others drink or even take drugs, people zone out in front of a computer, or stay so busy they don’t have to think about it or go into denial mode, pretending it is okay when it really isn’t! Life gets crazy for all of us, and when we experience emptiness, or feel drained or overwhelmed, the temptation is to fill ourselves up with things that we think will bring us comfort. Many times they do, but often it is only a temporary fix or escape. May I offer an invitation to fill ourselves up with what truly comforts, not just as a temporary fix, but in a way that brings us a new lease on life. It is an invitation to fill ourselves up with God because it is the Lord who answers us and delivers us from all our fears, who hears us and saves us when life gets crazy.

Life was crazy for David…literally! Psalm 34 is a tangible testimony to David’s crazy life. Here’s the context of the psalm: David was running from King Saul. As a young man, he had been pulled from his father’s pastures and anointed as King of Israel. The only problem with that scenario was Saul was still king. David, through his great gift of music, and the ingenuity he employed to defeat the giant Goliath, eventually made it into King Saul’s court, and the Bible says that when David played music, it soothed the soul of King Saul, who battled his own mental instability. Long story short. Saul became jealous of David, and in a couple of fits of jealousy, tried to kill David. David had to run for his life. The first stop on his journey was in Philistia, which is the home of the Philistines. You remember the Philistines? Yeah, Goliath was a Philistine. These are David’s archenemies. David’s crazy life just got crazier. David arrives in Gath and encounters King Achish. Some of the king’s servants tell Achish, “Hey, this is David from Israel. Haven’t you heard they wrote a song about him? Goes like this: ‘Saul has killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands’.” So, David, on the run from one crazy king, and in the presence of his enemy, gets afraid. Makes sense to me. What does David do? Decides to mimic the behavior he’s seen in Saul. 1 Samuel 21:13 says David changed his behavior and “pretended to be insane.” Achish said, “Don’t I have enough of my own madmen? I don’t need one from Israel. Get him out of here.” And, David was sent packing, delivered from the hand of his enemies. Pretty crazy, huh?

It would be real easy for me to say the lesson for us is “When life gets crazy, get crazy with it,” but I don’t think that’s what David experienced. After all, he only pretended to be insane. Instead, I think the lesson is “Though people think we’re crazy, we’re still going to praise God!” That’s the message of David’s song. To the world, the life of faith can seem pretty crazy.

 

Crazy faith actually speaks and acts in a way that reflects the freedom God gives us, that reflects our trust in God so that we can actually become people who do good rather than evil—so that we can actually survive the craziness of this life. We don’t break the bad habits in our lives by simply sitting down and wishing them away. We break the bad habits by changing our behavior, by reaching for a carrot instead of catfish, by walking out of the store without buying the latest fashion and instead tithing to help do good, by turning off the television or computer and reading Scripture and then talking to God in prayer, or actually being quiet to hear God speak back. Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?

Perhaps if we trusted the Lord to fill us up when we were tired, exhausted, discouraged, we would discover the energy and power of God’s spirit, and actually be able to do more – not just to keep busy, but to change the world so that others could rejoice in God because they have experienced being rescued, they have experienced being heard, they have experienced being fed.

We live in a world where we are bombarded with advertisements and invitations to fill ourselves, to fill our lives with all kinds of stuff, believing these things, this “whatever” will make me truly happy. But we also live in a world which depletes us, making us wonder if we are successful or valuable. It takes crazy faith to sing praise when we can’t make sense of our lives. It takes crazy faith to trust when the world is caving in on us. It takes crazy faith to believe that God will provide all we need when it feels like we need it all. It takes crazy faith to hear the voice of God in the midst of all things that clamor for our attention and that drain us of our energy. David had crazy faith. He believed God even when his life was crazy.

Don’t think because your life is crazy that God can’t use you. Look at how he used David’s crazy life. God’s been using crazy for a long time. God uses crazy when crazy is all he’s got. It’s crazy that God used a murderer named Moses to deliver his people from Egyptian bondage. It’s crazy that God used a donkey to speak to Balaam. It’s crazy that God would use a Pharisee named Paul to change the world. It’s crazy that God would take a man named Peter, who denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, and use him as the first leader of his church.

It takes crazy faith to believe that God would put on human flesh, be born as a baby, grow up as a man, be crucified for the sins of the world, and three days later rise up from the grave. The world says that’s crazy! What’s even crazier is that God offers through His Son, Jesus, the opportunity for us to be reconciled to Him, simply by believing. I don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops. I don’t have to do so many sacrifices. I don’t even have to pray a prayer in a particular way. All I have to do is accept and believe, and that’s crazy. It’s crazy, but it’s true. I know this sounds crazy, but God wants to use you…you with your life going crazy…you with your brokenness…you with your doubt…you with your confusion…you with your hunger. He wants to use you. He wants to use me, and I can tell you, that’s crazy, but when crazy is all he’s got, that’s what he’ll use.

Let me leave with five characteristics of “crazy faith”:

  1. Crazy faith doesn’t have God in a box.
  2. Crazy faith doesn’t always follow the “rules.”
  3. Crazy faith isn’t shackled by the fear of failure.
  4. Crazy faith believes it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission.
  5. Crazy faith is driven by passion, not success.

Perhaps I’ll unpack those in my next blog.

Until next time, keep looking up…